Overhauling Our State Government
By: Andy Ramirez
I have felt a rebirth over the past year since Jamie entered my life. For years, I was active in California State Politics having been twice nominated for the California State Assembly. I have been an activist in both major political parties, even serving as District Chair for a State Central Committee. I am a public advocate for the disabled and higher education while also facilitating How To Lobby Clinics for student leaders of the California State University System. From 1995 to 1998, I authored two Amendments to the State Constitution which would have made government accountable and saved millions of dollars in the process. Both of which can be read at my CALPAC website.
It has been frustrating to witness the continued decline of my State and its bad fiscal management.
After a few years of concentrating on personal health issues, the time has come to pick up the torch and resume my quest for change. After spending countless hours contemplating our Stateís issues and plight, I came back to the same conclusion of earlier years. Amend the State Constitution & Overhaul the California Legislature! I have developed several other ideas on political accountability.
To get California back on track we need to amend the California State Constitution with the following outline, which are further discussed below:
1. Capping campaign spending limits for State Constitutional Officers.
2. Creating an independent public government oversight commission that has the teeth to take action for inaction, while addressing California's issues.
3. Restore the part-time Legislature, while implementing a 100 Member Unicameral Legislature.
4. Overhauling the State Budget Process.
5. Salary, Car, & Per Diem Reforms
The first and perhaps easiest problem to fix is campaigns and elections. We have to reign in campaign spending, which is a complete mess. Since we canít really limit money being received, there is another way. Put a cap on State Constitutional Officers and how much money they can spend per election cycle. The local municipalities already do that very thing.
Here's how. $100k for State Assembly, $250k for State Senate, $500k for Board of Equalization, $2.5 million for Controller, Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner, Superintendent of Schools, $5 million for Governor, Lt Governor, and Attorney General. What that would do is keep the amount of money that is spent controlled. We'd get rid of the nonsense that goes on that keeps the average citizen locked out of the political process.
See Sacramento plays games with that, too. They ask a candidate if they're serious and if a candidate can raise money to run. What that really means is will a candidate write out their own check of $250k or more to finance their own election. Of that about $100k goes to an "overpriced political consultant" in Sacramento. A nice portion from the consultant fee has to go to legislative leaders. When we run, Sacramento decides who gets what support and money based on the money they spend. Candidates get the financing on that very basis. We donít get our own special interest financing, that's orchestrated through legislative leaders. How would the average candidate know who to approach, let alone how? Lobbyists ask the leadership which districts are targeted. Special interest money is doled out accordingly after meeting with those legislative leaders in both parties. They determine who will get what funding from their lobbyists and PACs according to a number of factors. This is a big business.
There are also Members, and former Members who have deep pockets that can affect fundraising for candidates, too. Due to their position, or monetary control, they can blacklist a candidate financially, and force endorsements to be removed. With such power, it's imperative that we have caps on campaign spending. I've witnessed and experienced this, firsthand.
This needs to be added to the State Constitution as an amendment via initiative ballot measure. No legislative body would ever consider such a thing. By capping the amount of money that can be spent, there would be no need for the ridiculous amount of fundraising that politicians currently do. Political leaders would then be able to spend more time legislating, and representing their districts. Special interest influence could diminish since you can only spend so much, they wouldnít need to contribute as heavily.
Californiaís State Government is completely out of control. They spend beyond our means, and do not follow the will of the public and ignore mandated deadlines of the State Constitution. The State Budget has become nothing more than an election tool and appropriations in it are mostly pork projects designed to help the special interest groups and contributors, which in turn keeps Members war-chests full. Part of the problem is that Legislators think the taxpayers dollars are there for them to manage and use as they see fit. But the reality is that it is our money and has been badly mismanaged. I've said for years that if we ran our family and business operating budgets as poorly as the politicians manage the State Budget we'd all be out of work and homeless. Yet, the State Budget is over 30 billion in debt. Politicians are not true to the oath of office they take upon being seated in their Constitutional Offices.
Therefore, I propose the creation of a new commission that shall have complete Constitutional oversight authority. I'd call it the California Public Accountability Commission and mandate it to govern over all State Government Officers, Departments and Agencies. CPAC shall be an independent governing authority, and non-partisan. While a person can be of any party affiliation, they cannot participate in any partisan activities from the date of their appointment (or however we figure out selection) until six months after the day their appointment expires or they'd have resigned. This commission can hold public disciplinary hearings and take actions in response to any complaint made by either public officials, or State residents.
Recommendations made by CPAC will be forwarded to the California State Legislature for deliberations and voting. The State Legislature will have a time period of three to six months to complete action. After that time has expired, CPAC would have the legal mandate to present their action involving a Constitutional Amendment or Statute Amendment/Repeal to the State Ballot. For those matters that do not involve a Constitutional Amendment, or Statute, that State Constitutional Officer can enact a policy matter.
In this way, the public would be able to decide the issue without obstruction from the Legislature and its Members. We'll have accomplished our goal of isolating and even bypassing the State Constitutional Officers with reform legislation and oversight authority using teeth that the Constitutional Revision Commission, and even Little Hoover have only dreamed of having. There would never be a sunset clause. If a person would take a matter to a State Board and find a matter resolved to less than their satisfaction, then CPAC can hear the matter just as the US Supreme Court does.
Here are two great examples for CPAC and how they can operate as an oversight commission. If the Legislature does not pass the State Budget by it's constitutionally mandated deadline, CPAC can take disciplinary actions such as my no-pass no pay policy for the late State Budget. CPAC can eliminate the leased car program and provide only for pool cars for legislators to use.
The public can select and confirm CPAC Members who are on the election ballot designated as Non-Partisan. Candidates are allowed to spend no money and receive no money for this election. Their campaigns are through presentation of each candidate's plan, which is submitted in a special pamphlet to the voters of California. The media will be directed to print each candidateís plans in a special section published prior to the elections. Again, they cannot list any political affiliations, activities, or endorsements. Voters will select an odd number to serve, such as seven or nine. Members are given 4-year terms, with a maximum of three terms. Each election voters have two options, to reconfirm the Members, and where they don't the second question presents a list of candidates as replacements. All Members who retire become ex-officio or Member Emeritus where they can speak, and participate, but he or she retains no voting authority. Qualifications can be added prior to such a submission plan. No candidate who has previously served as an elected or appointed State Constitutional Officer, or staff member, or registered lobbyist is eligible.
Hereís another idea after thinking back to my part-time Legislature proposal. We can combine that with a recommendation for a Unicameral Legislature. One body called the California House of Representatives, made up of 100 Members, which is a shift down from two houses of 120 Members combined. This concept would save a ton of money since it's 120 we save by downsizing a respectable portion, but not as drastic as eliminating 40 Members. What we do is give Members 5 to 6 terms of 2 years, or 3 terms of 4 years odd districts for one election year, even on the alternating year like the current Senate.
Then we give them a part-time Legislature per my 1997-98 version. Swearing-in after January 1st, unlike the current period of December. In no other profession does a person begin a new job, work for 5 or so business days, and then begin a 2-3 week vacation.
The session shall begin 30 days after the last bill is introduced, which could be about March 23 or so. The session shall conclude on Midnight, June 30 of each year, which is the deadline for the State Budget to be passed by both houses. Since the Legislature would have a simple majority vote requirement for passage, the State Budget can be passed. The Majority Party gets what they want with a Simple Majority for passage. However, the Minority Party's concerns are also addressed by my 1996 legislation covering State Indebtedness. Perhaps, a RANs and RAWs prohibition, and eliminate the rollover by sending that to the ballot for approval or denial. Only in politics is a budget operated with using an anticipated revenue type mentality. We can't operate a business or family in that same ridiculous manner, and have no business operating the State of California in that same method. Require a quarterly fiscal budget adjustment plan so that any imbalance over 10% automatically triggers budget cuts until the budget is rebalanced. Also, a fiscal quarterly budget review would be accordingly required.
Getting back to the part-time Legislature, we give Legislators all of July to work solely on the State Budget. There would be no returning home to districts from Mid-July through Mid-August, which really only delays the State Budget. Legislators stay in Sacramento and work on Budget and Appropriations and that's the only work they are allowed to do. After which they return home for the remainder of the year as the session is completed. All pending bills would be considered dead for that session if not passed prior to Midnight, June 30. As the cost to California's taxpayers are roughly $10,000 per bill, the amount of bills that can be introduced by any Member needs to be restricted. After the annual bill introduction deadline, bills can only be introduced under State Urgency needs. Bills that are introduced and later gutted, so that the content is altered beyond the original subject and meaning can only occur with the approval of 3/4s of the Members. CPAC can review such bills to determine if that requirement has been met and the bill is germaine to it's original content. Special Sessions can only be ordered by the Governor in response to a disaster, or other urgent special circumstance, which can be also monitored by CPAC.
Reforming the procedure for State Constitutional Officers Salary Increases in imperative. Since their creation, the Citizen's Compensation Commission has nearly doubled State Legislator salaries. This has taken place since 1994 though the performance of the State Legislature has consistantly eroded and degraded to unprecedented levels. State Legislators still cant meet the State Budget's Constitutional mandated time requirements. I propose forwarding future State Constitutional Officer salary increases to the State Ballot for final approval by the voters. The CCC can be eliminated altogether and CPAC can assume their responsibilities.
Also, we need to eliminate the State Legislator leased car program. Why should Legislators use expensive automobiles such as Cadillac Seville STS's, and Lincoln Navigators', both costing over $50,000, when the average resident drives around in a mom and pop type truck, Taurus and other similar vehicles.
Senator Kevin Murray drives in the most expensive vehicle in the State Legislature with a 2002 Lincoln Navigator valued at $52,955.58, while Senator Tom McClintock drives the lowest valued car, a 1998 Mercury Grand Marquis valued at $16,784.31. Especially in a time when our State Budget is billions of dollars in the red. It's simple give State Legislators a basic pool car for use in Sacramento, or eliminate that perk altogether. The Legislators Car/Per Diem Report click HERE or at the bottom of the page.
At the same time, we must reform Per Diem rules. State Taxpayers provide Legislators with a tax free daily allowance that amounts to roughly $26,000 annually. Yes, the Legislature is entitled to a daily per diem. Yet, for the work they are really not doing, why are we paying them seven days per diem, though they work roughly 4 1/2 days, if even that. Give them per diem only for the days they are in session for a minimum of 5 hours per day. Taxpayers should not have to pay seven days wages for 4 1/2 days work at the State Capitol. The alternative is to restrict per diem to pay the exact amount of housing which can be provided by the State, and also travel expenses to and from the State Capitol for the purposes of attending session and legislative hearings.
Sure you can find flaws in my proposals, but it's more than you're getting out of Sacramento, or during the current recall. Having personally worked these issues years ago, I am putting my own experiences and institutional knowledge to work it to advantage on behalf of California's taxpayers. As was reported in 1997 by the Office of the California Attorney General, the summary of estimate by the Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance determined that my measures "could result in unknown net savings to the State, probably millions of dollars annually."
*Note: To read the Legislators Car/Per Diem Report, click HERE
Next issue: Iíll address the State Budget and some ideas I have that may be more fiscally sound, not mere soundbytes from candidates for the cameras or votes.
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